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May 20, 2001

Summertime is right around the corner, and while children across the country are counting the days until school is out, parents are busy finalizing their children's summer activities. Before signing the papers for day care, summer camp, sports teams, or gymnastics lessons, the Leadership to Keep Children Alcohol Free calls on parents nationwide to set aside some time on the family calendar to talk seriously to their kids about the dangers of drinking alcohol.

Research supported by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism shows that more than 40% of individuals who begin drinking before age 13 will develop alcohol abuse or dependence at some time in their lives. There is also evidence that today's young drinkers are different from those in past decades. They start younger, consume more alcohol, and drink to get drunk. And, kids who drink heavily in their mid-teens may remember 10% less of what they have learned.

"Alcohol is our children's number-one drug of choice," said Judith Vicary, Professor of Biobehavioral Health at Penn State University, prevention expert, and a member of the Leadership's executive working group. "We must face the reality that children are drinking at increasingly younger ages. More than 2.1 million minors are considered heavy drinkers, and over 100,000 12-13 year olds binge drink every month," added Vicary.

"Everybody pays for the costs of the consequences attributable to underage drinking, which now approach $60 billion annually, or roughly $560 per American household each year," added Vicary. "Raising the drinking age to 21 has saved thousands of lives, but we need to take bolder steps to create a significant shift in the way we approach this public health problem."

"We must work together to change the way society thinks about alcohol and its consumption by anyone underage, and in the actions we take to prevent underage drinking. Parents are the first line of defense, and with the help of the community at large, can have a significant impact on fixing this problem," Vicary added.

Now is a critical time for parents to talk to their children about alcohol and set ground rules for themselves and their families. The Leadership to Keep Children Alcohol Free offers these tips:

-- Encourage conversation and ask open-ended questions when you talk with your child.

-- Show respect for your child's viewpoint and control your own emotions. If you hear something you don't like, try not to respond with anger.

-- Explain to your child that it's illegal for individuals under the age of 21 to drink alcohol and that it can interfere with healthy mental, physical, and social development.

-- Help your child develop some quick "one-liners" to say no to a drink.

-- Monitor alcohol use in your home; don't offer alcohol to a minor.

-- Keep track of your child's activities and whom they are spending time with.

-- Develop family rules and consequences about drinking.

-- Let your kids' caregivers know and enforce your rules about alcohol in the home.

-- Join together with other parents to create a neighborhood group devoted to keeping alcohol out of kids' reach.

More tips and information can be found in the Leadership's booklet, "Make a Difference: Talk to Your Child About Alcohol." The 24-page booklet is available in both English and Spanish. Parents can order a free copy at http://www.niaaa.nih.gov.

About the Leadership to Keep Children Alcohol Free

The Leadership to Keep Children Alcohol Free is a multi-year public- private partnership to prevent children ages 9-15 from drinking alcohol. Funded by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the Leadership enlists the active support of Governors' Spouses across America, along with prevention experts, community leaders and 5 other Federal government agencies, as catalysts to create a momentum for change.

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